Walkerton-Privatization Kills

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Sat Jun 10 19:58:12 MDT 2000



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Walkerton tragedy - privatization kills
  By Wendy Forrest, President Ontario Public Service Employees Union
local 512- member of Socialist Alternative

  In Walkerton Ontario eleven people have died and many more made
seriously ill from E.coli infected drinking water. E.coli, a bacteria
contained in cattle manure seeped into the town's drinking water wells
after several weeks of record rainfall in this rural area. Surplus
rainfall resulted in the overflow of ground water into the wells from
areas where cattle graze. People everywhere but especially in Walkerton
are outraged at this completely  preventable tragedy. Most rightly blame

the province's Tory government for this tragedy. These deaths are not
the result of a natural disaster nor are they as Mike Harris claims the
result of a "human error" on the part of  municipal officials.

They are a direct result of the cutbacks at all levels of government, of
federal and provincial downloading, cost cutting at human expense and
privatization of essential and vital public services.

 In 1993 Ontario's NDP government downloaded the costs for testing
drinking water onto the municipalities. At this time the province was
still responsible for the actual testing of water in provincially funded

laboratories. Municipalities paid closely regulated government labs for
this vital service. In 1996 as part of their draconian deficit busting
binge the Harris government privatized these testing labs. Figures from
the Ontario Public Service Employees Union show that 42% of the workers
employed by the Ministry to test water samples were laid off reducing
the number of workers from 113 to 42. As is the case in all instances of

privatization of public services and utilities, regulation and
accountability were drastically and dangerously reduced  as staffing
levels dropped and regulations were pared.. A situation was created
where the direct link between the laboratories and the government was
severed, a situation where a report from the private lab sat on
someone's desk for anywhere from 5 to 10 days before being picked up by
public utility officials in Walkerton. At the same time as the labs
blame the utilities department they are guilty of not following up on
the serious finding of  lethal bacteria in the drinking water.

In complete disregard for public health and safety and the protection
of the environment the Harris government has cut millions of dollars
from the Environment Ministry budget and laid off hundreds of workers.
Warnings regarding the possibility of such a tragedy have been coming in

to the Tories for years. One such warning was sent by Ontario's former
environment commissioner Eva Ligeti. For almost five years she advocated

that the provincial government take responsibility for the safety of 90%

of Ontario's rural population that live in areas dependent on
groundwater for drinking. She called for "buffer zones" or "groundwater
protection zones" between the water treatment facilities and areas where

cattle feed or septic systems are located. The Tories ignored her
recommendations.

The lies, denials, blaming and evil buffoonery  continue around the
Walkerton tragedy as the private labs blame the municipal officials and
Mike Harris protects the private laboratories saying he is confident
they acted appropriately. Harris trivializes the implications of this
tragedy stating that this is merely a result of "human error." The
people of Walkerton know differently and are placing the blame solely on

the Tories angrily heckling and demanding answers from the premier when
he visited their town. Workers are realizing that this tragedy is a
direct result of the purposeful destruction of the material
infrastructure of Ontario and  of all regions in Canada.

They are beginning to relate these events to the larger context of the
destructive neo-liberal policies enforced world-wide; policies that are
destroying the health and material well being of workers and ordinary
people everywhere. This tragedy in the small town of Walkerton is just
the tip of the iceberg. More and more we are seeing cuts to public
health result in tragedy and death.

Cuts to welfare and social services are creating poor health and
fatalities daily in all areas of the world, urban and rural. Job loss is
creating poverty and resultant poor health. Privatization of health care
services denies workers and
the poor everywhere the right to high quality healthcare, the right to
health and the right to live. Cuts to education ensure that the children

of workers and the poor are denied the opportunity and the right to
learn skills.

   The Walkerton tragedy is not the result of bacteria run amok nor is
it the result of "human error." It is the tragic but inevitable
consequence of the deadly life destroying policies of right wing
politicians determined to carry out the political agenda demanded by big

business. Trade union leaders in Ontario should expose this tragic event

for what is and educate workers for the purpose of mobilizing against
privatization and cuts to public services Socialists everywhere must
join forces with  environmentalists, workers and community groups to
mobilize and fight the neo-liberal agenda of cuts and privatization.




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